Vigorous writing is concise

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1935)


First 15 years of writing


Typewriter (Photo credit: iandavid)

Here are some things I did in the first 15 years of writing, starting when I was 15:

  1. Kept a journal and wrote whenever possible, ideas, sermon notes, observations from Bible reading or prayers, funny stories.
  2. In 1990 I started a list of good stories.
  3. Got a degree in print journalism because I wanted to write.
  4. While doing that I wrote, working for the school newspaper, alumni office, public relations offices of my school.
  5. Edited the school newspaper my senior year of college.
  6. Wrote umpteen papers in grad school.
  7. Wrote letters, newsletters for various organizations, volunteered to write things for people, did resumes for people, wrote family stories and collaborated on a family book.
  8. Read good books and took note of what good writing is like, how I felt when I read it, the mechanics of making it happen.
  9. I met and stayed in touch with good people who write.
  10. I wrote when I didn’t feel like writing, but I wrote.

That briefly covers the first 15 years of my writing life, and I haven’t gotten to actually publishing a magazine article, book, or anything more public than a few hundred people. Next post I’ll tell you about the next 15 years.

So you want to write?

Over the years I’ve heard lots of people say, “I think I have a book idea . . .” My first response is, “What have you written so far?”

“Oh, nothing, but it’s in my head.”

At this point I could go several directions . . .

  • Give said writer wannabe a swirly.
  • Tap the person on the head ever so lightly and say, “They’re called Readers (of actual text), not Mind Readers.”
  • Stare and blink a few times then walk away.
  • But usually my better self shows up to these conversations and here’s what I say.

If you want to write a book do one or more of the following:

  1. Write something. You don’t know what there is in there until you write.
  2. Go to a writer’s seminar.
  3. Take a journalism class at a community college or wherever you can.
  4. Get a book or two on writing. One of my favorites is Anne LaMott‘s Bird by Bird and right now I’m reading Tracy Kidder‘s and Richard Todd‘s Good Prose.
  5. Read good books and writing in the style you want to write.
  6. Journal for a year.
  7. Start a blog or just a private diary.
  8. Get a blank piece of paper and a pen and doodle and write till ideas come.
  9. Figure out if you really do want to write or if it’s just a fantasy.
  10. Write something. Did I say that already? Maybe because it’s the only way you are going to write, is by sitting down with the instruments of writing and putting an outline, ideas, a bad first draft, something on paper. Write something.

Still have that idea just “in your head”? Good writing takes time and energy and practice. Write me if you have questions about the writing life.

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I’m paying $100 for the best family story submitted to my blog. Submit by emailing me. The person with the best story will be paid $100 if I include in my next book on family life.

Submissions should be 500 words or less and include your email, physical address (only by email) and phone number.

Deadline: October 1, 2011

Announcement of Winner: November 1, 2011

$100 for your family stories